One of my most enjoyable leisure time activities through the years has been to sit at a bar having a few brews and getting into sports discussions with my fellow customers. Sometimes these talks were more sports trivia quizfests than debates, as you kept trying to stump your buddies by asking who was the only player to pinch hit for Ted Williams (Carroll Hardy) or what pitcher struck out the most batters in one game (Tom Cheney–21) or where did John Heisman coach (Oberlin, Buchtel…now the University of Akron, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Washington and Jefferson, Penn and Rice).

            Also frequent were the debates over who was the greatest shortstop (Honus Wagner) or which outfielder had the best arm (Roberto Clemente) or which of the Pirates now 18 consecutive losing seasons sucked the most (about a ten way tie for first and an 8 way tie for second).

            Along the way some of the guys or sportscasters you listened to or sportswriters you followed would come up with the conventional thinking, the concensus of  a variety of all time great claims or the best this or that, claims that through repetition have been ingrained in the sports fan collective mind as unassailable, as gospel.

               I got news for ya, I am the assailinator on a special mission to disabuse you of these notions and debunk what I term sports myths. I will endeavor to be gentle with you as some of these myths have hardly been challenged previously. And, after I’m finished, you better come armed with relevant facts sufficient to justify your position if you want to tell me I’m wrong.

                MYTH NUMBER ONE

                      Baseball is no longer the national pastime.

                       For years now we have heard that the NFL has surpassed major league baseball in popularity, mainly citing revenues and TV ratings. Or NASCAR has taken over with 100,000 fans attending many races. Now I will grant some numbers for the NFL could support a claim of great popularity, possibly even greater than for baseball. But if there were no gambling on football, I guarantee TV ratings would plummet. As to NASCAR……Mom always told me if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

                  But baseball, professional baseball, is enormously popular. Major league attendance averaged 73.5 million per year from 2000 through 2010. Minor league attendance for 2010 was 41.4 million. NFL attendance for 2009 was a record….but it was 17.282 million…less than one -quarter that of MLB and less than half of the minors.

             Okay, your argument is that baseball plays every day and football once a week. True.But  remember the mythical claim is that baseball is no longer the national pastime. The Merriam-Webster on line dictionary defines pastime as

             : something that amuses and serves to make time pass agreeably

              Now when was the last time you were amused at a football game? I’m not including the recent WVU game where a drunken shirtless fan joined the band on the field for the pre-game show, was ejected, and later that day was found walking naked on the Interstate.

                Baseball is a family affair. People pass the time at baseball games, kids play on in- park playgrounds and sometimes can run the bases after games. You’ve got sausage, pierogie and Presidential races between innings. You’ve got bobblehead giveaways. The only bobbleheads in football are the players concussed by a helmet to helmet hit.

               Minor league games are replete with almost daily promotions enjoyable for the family. Fully paid funerals have been awarded, alligators wrestled or redundacy night was held. There if you were identical twins, were born in a double digit year or had the same name you were admitted free. All batters were announced twice and so on. Now that’s a pastime!!!

                Baseball games move at their own pace and provide time for casual conversation. It’s a great way to “pass the time” Ask the bleacher bums in Wrigley Field. In fact ask George Carlin. Here’s his famous routine comparing football and baseball.

              Look at the pop culture treatment of the two sports. Football has ” The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds as a dissolute former quarterback in prison having to deal with a sadistic warden. Baseball has Bull Durham with Kevin Costner as a minor league catcher in North Carolina having to deal with Annie Savoy.

                Football has “The Junction Boys” about a college team in preason practice having to deal with their sadistic coach Bear Bryant. Baseball has “Field of Dreams” about an Iowa farmer having to deal with the voice of God.

                You may look at both activities as sports, but only baseball meets the pastime standard.

              MYTH NUMBER TWO

                That anyone was ever a better running back in the NFL than Jim Brown.

                  In recent years a slew of running backs have surpassed Brown’s total career yards rushing. Emmitt Smith is the all time leader now, and Barry Sanders and Walter Payton, the next two on the list, are often mentioned as the best of all. Hogwash I say.

                     Ok, Brown is now ninth on the career rushing list but is the only back in history with more than three years in the league who rushed for more than 100 yards a game on the average.

                  Brown played only nine years and had two seasons of less than 1000 yards, 942 and 996. When Franco Harris was approaching Brown’s career mark, Brown threatened to come out of retirement and retake the record. He was in his 40’s and had been retired about 17 years, but there were many who thought he would be capable of doing so.

                   Another notable aspect of Brown’s per game mark is that of any back whose career overlapped his, Jim Taylor, a Hall of Famer, is the closest, 40 yards behind.

                 Brown is 74 now and if you asked him if he could still play, I would wager that he would reply positively. If you told him he was wrong he might hit you, especially if you’re a woman.

                     MYTH NUMBER THREE

                       Bill Russell is the greatest pro basketball player ever because of the number of championships his teams won or at least better than Wilt Chamberlain for that reason.

                     Bill Russell was a hell of a player. He led his college team, The University of SanFrancisco, to two NCAA titles before he came to the NBA. With the Celtics he was a member of 11 NBA champions. His contemporary, Wilt Chamberlain, however, although setting one scoring record after another and matching up against Russell at center in many epic battles, has taken a back seat to Russell in the pundits’ minds since Wilt was only on two champions, no matter his personal stats.

           Well, there may be a reason for that which takes some of the luster off the Russell reputation. To put it simply, Russell was on better teams because he was on better teams.

            During his time on the Celtics, Bill had eleven, that’s 11, basketball Hall of Fame teammates on the floor with him. They were Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Bill Sharman, Arnie Risen, Clyde Lovelette, K.C. and Sam Jones (not K.C. and the Sunshine Band), Tom Heinson, Wayne Embry, and Bailey Howell. And for the main part of that time he had a Hall of Fame coach, Red Auerbach.

                 Contrast that with Wilt the Stilt who had a less stellar cast to join him on a title quest. In his early years with the Warriors Hall of Famers Paul Arizin, Tom Gola and Nate Thurmond, the latter for only 1 1/2 seasons, played alongside him. With the 76’ers he had two HOF teammates in Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham. And finally with the Lakers Jerry West, Elgin Bylor and Gail Goodrich fit that description.

                         Only two of those teams won titles, but look how they did it. The ’67 76’ers set a record for regular season games won 68. The ’72 Lakers topped that mark with 69 wins including a pro sports record 33 game winning streak.

                           The conclusion is that Russell simply had more great players around him more consistently so naturally, in  the eight team league at the time, his teams won more titles. But give Chamberlain a better supporting cast and his teams not only won but set records doing so.

                   Let’s look at individual stats. Chamberlain and Russell, in that order are 1-2 in career rebounds and rebounds per game, the difference slight. Chamberlain outscored Russell by over 17,000 points in his career,over twice as many as his rival. And Wilt could dish it, too, having over 600 more assists than Russell.

                  Bill Russell was a great player and a great teammate on great teams and a vital cog in the Boston Celtic championship machine. Wilt Chamberlain was an even greater individual player who, when playing with great talent around him, helped produce not mere championships but historically superior teams.

* All NBA stats here:

                    MYTH NUMBER FOUR

                   Nolan Ryan was one of the best pitchers ever as evidenced by his seven no-hitters and legendary strikeout totals.

                    Well just a minute there, rosin bag breath, let’s take a closer look.

                    I do acknowledge Ryan’s strikeouts and number of  no-hitters are unparalleled and unlikely to be matched. I do acknowledge Ryan won over three hundred games, one of the benchmarks for greatness.

                    Here are the stats for two pitchers as a 162 game average for their careers.

                   W-L        ERA            WHIP (walks/hits per inning)

                  14-13      3.19             1.247

                   12-10      3.66             1.301

Same stats for post season play in same order

                      2-2         3.07            0.903

                       5-1          1.98             0.936

               Looking at those figures is there one pitcher that appears to be significantly superior to the other? Tough, eh? Well, I’ll end the suspense and tell you the second set of numbers in each case belong to that stalwart former Pirates plunked-batter ace, Bruce Kison. Of course the other set represents the pride of Alvin, Texas  Nolan Ryan.

                  There’s a chance if you are no more than a very casual baseball fan that Kison’s name is unfamiliar, while Ryan’s probably jumps out at you. Now in an over all sense I will not insult you with assertions that Kison is even close to Ryan. The former totalled 115 big league wins, the esteemed Ryan, 324. Yet in 15 seasons Bruce’s win total exceeds his losses by 27, while Nolan’s 292 losses are just 32 fewer than his wins in a 27 year career.

                   The pitcher who you undoubtedly would consider the more masterful averaged 2 wins and 3 losses more than a middle of the road, capable starting pitcher.

                     Of course as the roles of relief pitchers have evolved, most starters in these times are rarely counted on to pitch more than 6, maybe seven, innings in a game. That fact alone diminishes the opportunity to be awarded a win by the official scorer regardless of the game’s outcome. But it also lessens the chance for a chargeable loss.

                     Now remember, ryan averaged only one more victory than loss per season for his career. He never had more than a plus 6 W-L record. Given he was not always with championship teams, but he was on few terrible ones either. In contrast, Steve Carlton had 27 of the Phillies 59 wins in 1972. ( An accomplishment that still amazes me)

                   Of course the title to this piece should not be taken literally.  Considering the way my Buccos have foundered for 18 years and the performance of this season’s staff,  I’d be tempted to have Ryan start the home opener next spring.But I look at Ryan as essentially a .500 pitcher. His career W-L percentage is .526, the lowest of any 300 game winner. That he struck out so many batters and had the 7 no-nos is to his credit. But if strikeouts indicate superiority then why did he lose so many games….292?  Ryan’s player page:

               For my money if I had an important game, the 7th game of the World Series, my starting pitcher would be Gibson, Koufax, Clemens, Johnson, Marichal, or one of several others. And after observing Kison’s performances in the late and post seasons for the Pirates he might suffice if my other choices aren’t available. But Nolan Ryan? No, thank you. I want the best chance to win.

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  • Megan  On December 1, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    I wrote about this very subject myself earlier, and it was great to see your take on it umoc193. – cars2scrap.


  • By Eyeglasses Spotlight Blog on November 23, 2010 at 4:53 AM

    Nine West 414 Brown…

    […]  Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Now remember, ryan averaged only one more victory than loss […]…

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